One Great Song Three Great Records (Dedicated To The One I Love)

Image result for the mamas and the papas dedicatedThe first time I heard “Dedicated to the One I Love” was in February 1967 when the Mamas & the Papas released the song as a single. The year since the arrival of their debut LP “If You Can Believe Your Eyes & Ears” had been golden for the four part harmony group. Apparently John and Mitchy were getting kind of itchy just to leave the folk music behind. With Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott the Phillips’s sang like a band of angels. “California Dreaming” & “Monday Monday”, instant classics, blended  West Coast sunshine with grown up songs. The four voices were such a natural fit they could have recorded excerpts from the phone book & it would have sounded fine.

 

“Dedicated to the One I Love” was the group’s fifth Top 10 hit in 2 years. The Mamas & the Papas epitomised Los Angeles bohemian chic & the musicians of Laurel Canyon were displacing the movie stars of Hollywood as the city’s cool set. I’m not going to be able to leave this without declaring that in 1967 Michelle Phillips, “Dedicated…” being her finest recording, was quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the world. You don’t believe me ? Then watch this…

 

 

Related image“Dedicated to the One I Love” & the Mamas & the Papas were such a perfect fit I assumed that John Phillips had written this one too. This was not the case, the song had been a hit for the Shirelles in 1961.  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, the first big one of many for the songwriting team Goffin & King was one of theirs. “Soldier Boy” that was another one. The 4 Jersey Girls pioneered the girl-group sound, a big part of 60s American Pop. In 1966 I loved the Crystals, Ronettes, Shangri-Las & the graduates of the Motown charm school. The Shirelles seemed a little over by then, I had never heard their version of “Dedicated…”. What did I know ? Back then I had never even heard of the 5 Royales.

 

 

Image result for the 5 royales dedicated to the one i loveNow that’s how it originally went. In the days before Rock & Roll the 5 Royales were a pretty big deal. The group, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, took up permanent residence in the R&B Top 10 between 1952-54. At Apollo Records in New York they were skilled at taking Gospel groups & steering them towards Doo-Wop. The Selah Jubilee Singers became the Larks & the Royal Sons Quintet, the 5 Royales. These early hits featured the strong lead vocal of Johnny Tanner & a tenor sax break. Band member Lowman Pauling had a facility for writing fine songs & he was soon to prove that he had another 6 strings to his bow.

 

Image result for lowman paulingThe group’s sound was updated when the saxophone was joined by Lowman’s guitar. His stinging, economical, innovative style marked the 5 Royales out from the crowd. Young guitarists like Steve Cropper, later to be such a presence at Stax, & John Fogarty, off of Credence Clearwater Revival, certainly listened & imitated. Lowman continued to provide great material. In 1957 there was another burst of success with songs that were not only popular but influential. “Think” was recorded by James Brown, “Tell the Truth” by Ray Charles. For “Dedicated to the One I Love”, co-written by Pauling & producer Ralph Bass, Johnny Tanner’s younger brother Eugene stepped up to add the sweetness that the song needed & made it such a popular, enduring classic. The swagger from Lowman Pauling’s guitar is what makes it outstanding. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is not a concept that much concerns me but when the 5 Royales were ushered through the door in 2015 I was happy to see them recognised.

 

 

 

In 1968 Stax Records of Memphis found themselves at the wrong end of a deal with Atlantic. In September 1969, to counter the loss of a stellar back catalogue, the label released 27 new LPs. One of them, “Hot Buttered Soul” by Isaac Hayes sold 3 million copies, inspired a whole lot of Orchestral Soul & kept Stax in the record-making game. Producer Jo Bridges set up the subsidiary We Produce label & brought along the Temprees, a trio who had been friends from high school in Memphis.

 

Image result for the tempreesThere are 3 Temprees albums, all large helpings of sweet, symphonic Soul. In 1972 it was the vocal groups up in Philadelphia, the Gamble & Huff stable, O’Jays, Bluenotes, the Stylistics who were getting the hits. Then there was the Chi-Lites & always the Temptations. The lead falsetto vocals of Jabbo Phillips stand comparison with Russell Thompkins of the Stylistics but the Temprees never achieved similar success. Their unhurried take on “Dedicated…” is a delight, a great vocal supported by Stax’ house orchestra, Isaac Hayes’ back-up, the Movement. Never fails to hit the spot this one…”Ooh Baby !”.

 

Image result for 5 royales dedicated to the one i loveSo here’s 3 versions of a great love song from 3 different decades each one a fine example of a style current at the time. Then there’s the Shirelles US Top 10 record, Bitty McLean’s reggaefied UK hit, the title track of a Linda Ronstadt LP, a live tribute by Laura Nyro, a champion of New York R&B.  Lowman Pauling died in 1973, he’s buried in Winston-Salem next to his brother Clarence Paul, mentor of Stevie Wonder, co-writer of “Fingertips”, “Until You Come Back to Me”, “Hitch Hike” & many others. Man, that’s a talented family. The man whose name is on these & many other versions saw very little money from his composition. At the time of his death he was working as a night watchman at a New York church. Lowman now has a reputation as a star guitarist (try “The Slummer the Slum”, an early use of feedback) but something is not right there.

Random Notes (June 2017)

Oof ! At the start of June our government was telling us that the Leader of the Opposition would take us back to the 1970’s & was an IRA sympathiser. A new generation of voters, raised on & unconvinced by Austerity, replied “When?” & “Who?” then exercised their democratic right in favour of a politician they perceived as principled & fighting their corner. Jeremy Corbyn may not be Prime Minister but the Tories, anticipating plain sailing to an increased majority, are a sinking ship, their “strong & stable” banner in tatters. My own cynicism ( a trait I thought to be an attractive one) was refreshingly challenged by the optimistic younglings of my company. This new passion found a focus when terrorist attacks led to criticism of cuts to emergency services & a tragic fire in London exposed policies which favoured profit over respect for the rights of others to fatal effect.

 

I’m no Corbyn cultist though there is much to admire about his successful acampaign in the face of the vilification from the media. I would prefer a united Labour Party confident enough to articulate & endorse the concerns of their support rather than wait for a hopeless, rudderless, all-but minority government to run aground as they blindly attempt to negotiate the choppy waters of our exit from the EU. Whatever the outcome, something has changed.

 

That’s enough politics & certainly too many maritime metaphors. Let’s put some sounds on…

 

 

My musical month was always set to be dominated by “The Nashville Sound” the new much-anticipated (well, by me) new LP from Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. It seems that I’m not the only one & it’s selling more copies than the previous 2 award winning collections “Southeastern” & “Something More Than Free”. Whether Jason is rocking out with the band or getting reflective with his acoustic guitar, his wife Amanda on fiddle & harmonies, his mature, assured songs hit the spot more accurately than anyone else around at the moment. That heart-wrenching line “I’m just lucky to have the work” from the title track of “Something…” is still tearing me up now here’s another 10 tracks to have around the house & to get to know.

 

Image result for the nashville sound jason isbellThis time around Isbell is stretching himself lyrically. He & his protagonists, mainly Southern American men, are living in Trump’s America, something needs to be said about the frustration & anger that brings. “Hope the High Road” & “White Man’s World” are not political with a capital P, his character studies are accurate & sympathetic. Any false steps, there is sometimes a slight lyrical clumsiness, is offset by great contributions from all the musicians involved. Hey I’m being picky here. The last 2 records have been very good company, taking their  time to reveal their full depth & qualities. “Cumberland Gap”, “If We Were Vampires” & “Tupelo” are  are already welcome guests. I look forward to becoming more familiar with the rest of “The Nashville Sound”.

 

 

I’ve been an admirer of Steve van Zandt since he was consiglieri to Bruce & the E Street Band before doing the same job for the Soprano family. Hell, I even hung around “Lilyhammer” long after it had jumped the reindeer. Now his immaculately curated Underground Garage (every show archived somewhere around here) is my Interweb radio show of choice. Little Steven’s Rock & Roll sensibility & taste sit very well with me & it only took a listen to a couple of tracks off of his new LP “Soulfire” & I was on it (new fave phrase, courtesy of the hilarious Count Arthur Strong) like a German Shepherd on chicken !

 

Image result for steve van zandt james gando;fini“Soulfire” is infused with Steve’s abiding belief in music’s redemptive quality. Older songs, 2 that he gave to Southside Johnny, are spiritedly resuscitated. “Ride the Night Away” reclaims that great opening riff to “I Found Love” a co-write for Lone Justice. Strong new songs cover similar ground, there are 2 covers, a Blues from Etta James & a spectacular version of James Brown’s “Down & Out In New York City” (from the movie “Black Caesar”). The bold, brassy Spectoresque Wall of Sound, employed by Steve & Springsteen back then, is made loud & clear by master engineer Bob Clearmountain & it’s so good to hear the Persuasions, a classic vocal group, back on record. No new ground is broken on “Soulfire”, it’s traditional American Rock done well by one of the guys who set the standard & it’s glorious.

 

 

Image result for kwyet kinksOK, it’s not all new music round our end, it never is. This month it’s been the Kinks that have made it to to the front of the stack & stayed there. Back when the money from my paper round didn’t stretch to expensive 12″ vinyl discs record companies offered EPs, Extended Plays, 4 tracks for less than double the price of a 2 track 45. Of course the Beatles led the way with  “Twist & Shout” (1963) & “Long Tall Sally” (1964), a great collection of previously unreleased recordings. Both sold more than many hit singles. The Stones matched these with “Five By Five” (1964), new cuts from sessions at Chess studios, & “Got Live if You Want It ” (1965). EPs were mainly recycled material, a chance to buy a couple of singles you had missed. The Kinks were one group who had songs that never made the A-side but were more than album filler.

 

Image result for well respected man kinks“Kwyet Kinks” came around in September 1965, a year when the group had 5 Top 20 hits. Their early energy had converted R&B influences into aggressive, punk Rock & Ray Davies, still  just 21 years old, was developing a more introspective songwriting style. Both Summer hits “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” combined a wistful lyric with a distinctive, inventive guitar sound. The oh so good, oh so fine “Well Respected Man”, a first excursion into sly social commentary, was picked from the EP by offshore pirate radios & played to an audience of over 10 million as often as any new hit. The Kinks’ record label & management doubted the group’s new direction but their fans were already on it. “Wait Till the Summer Comes Along” was the first song to be solely credited to the younger Davies, guitarist Dave. It would be a couple of years before Dave made his own hit solo records but the talent is there to see on this one. The other 2 tracks “Don’t You Fret” & “Such A Shame” were not saved for “The Kink Kontroversy”, their 3rd LP.  In 1965 the Davies brothers, Pete Quaife (bass), Mick Avory (drums) & their producer Shel Talmy were mining a very productive seam.

 

Image result for dedicated kinks epThe following year “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, a sharp lampoon of Carnabetian Swinging London, was the first in a series of acutely observed, distinctively British, classic Kinks hits. Pye, never slow to capitalise on their back catalogue, released the “Dedicated Kinks” EP, the title hit, “Set Me Free”, “See My Friends” & the raucous, rocking “Till the End of the Day”. Now that sounded like value for my hard-earned to me. A good reason for a Saturday, the one day I was holding folding, visit to the local record shop.

That Would Be Ecstasy You And Me Endlessly (The Young Rascals)

Back in the mid-1980s my friend Mitchell’s new job came with a van which he got to keep when he wasn’t punching the clock. As a non-driver I really didn’t mind public transport (OK, the cold, wasted hours at bus stops could be irksome) but looking at the world’s greatest city through a windshield, cruising with your best buddy & the correct sounds playing made life a little better. Our music of choice was a cassette of the soundtrack of “The Big Chill” (1983) Lawrence Kasdan’s poignant Baby Boomer ensemble drama. Not all of the classic tracks from the 1960s used in the movie made it on to the album, it was mostly Motown & Atlantic Soul. One track, probably the one we knew the least, caught the moment, raised our energy, went straight to rewind & repeat.

 

 

“Good Lovin'”, a 2 minutes 28 seconds rush was the 2nd single to be released by Atlantic’s blue-eyed Soul boys the Young Rascals. Originally recorded by Lemme B Snell, the Rascals had probably come across the version by the Olympics. Their first eponymous LP, a recreation of their exciting live shows at the Barge, Long Island, which first attracted the label, was packed with cover versions, just one of their own compositions. Under the tutelage of future label Veep Arif Mardin & expert engineer Tom Dowd the group produced themselves. The songs written by organist Felix Cavaliere & singer Eddie Brigati  didn’t match the #1 success of “Good Lovin'” but were good, getting better & kept them in the frame as one of the most popular groups around.

 

Image result for young rascalsThe Rascals became “Young” to avoid legal dealings with an established variety act. Onstage their knickerbockers & Peter Pan collars gave them an overgrown schoolboy look. They were good-looking men & over here we saw them as US teen idols who, like Paul Revere & the Raiders, relied a little too much on a visual gimmick. In the mid-Sixties the UK’s Pop Art was our biggest export. We were busy in Carnaby St, had our own take on R&B, our own new young sensations coming up. The Young Rascals were closer to the dynamic Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. We pretty much ignored that great group too.

 

 

Image result for young rascals traffic 1967 uk tourIt was “Groovin'” (1967), you know it, carefree, the feelgood hit of the Summer of Love, a better anthem  than Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco, which finally registered in the UK. They came over to tour with Traffic & Vanilla Fudge (who, I think, blew the tour out after just one date) & that sounds like a good night. The “Groovin'” LP was packed with hit singles. “A Girl Like You” was a Rascals’ rhythm rocker, “How Can I Be Sure”, with Eddie on lead vocal, was a baroque waltzing delight. It sure sounded like a hit to me (it was in the US) & I bought the 45, on the red Atlantic label, but not many other Brits did. It sounded like a hit again when Dusty Springfield released a version that missed out. In 1972 David Cassidy did take the song to the #1 spot but I wasn’t really listening.

 

The group had ditched the school uniforms & the cover of the “Once Upon A Dream” LP (1968) confirmed that the Rascals were no longer “Young”. “Sergeant Pepper’s…” had set a new standard for Pop music & classically trained Felix Cavaliere was up for the challenge. With its sound effects, spoken word,. whistles, bells & sitars, the LP certainly embraced the new spirit of inventiveness & imagination. The one hit 45 “It’s Wonderful” is just that. At times the simple, soulful melodicism of the group loses out to orchestration & arrangement but “Once Upon  Dream” is a very interesting record which doesn’t get the love or attention it deserves when American music of the time is remembered. Whether the world & their audience were ready for the Psychedelic Rascals was another matter. Later in the year “Time Peace”, a greatest hits collection, reached #1 in the album charts. Perhaps people, preferring those optimistic, energetic, well-made tunes, still regarded the Rascals as a great singles band. They could still do them.

 

 

In the late 1960s music was changing & so was America. The Rascals, New Jersey boys raised on R&B, affected by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy & Martin Luther King, insisted on playing on integrated bills before non-segregated audiences. The group spent a little more time on their next LP. Previously they had pretty much recorded & released everything they had written. “People Got To Be Free”, a taster for “Freedom Suite”, was another irresistible anthem which gave the Rascals their third #1 US hit. “Freedom Suite”, like many double albums, would have made a great single LP. It’s been remiss of me not check for Dino Danelli. The space offered by playing in a 3-piece band showed Dino to be a great Rock drummer but a 13 minute drum solo, acceptable from Ginger Baker of Atlantic’s new Rock act Cream, was a little indulgent. The 15 minute long track taking up the whole of Side 4 was a bit much too.

 

Image result for young rascalsBy 1970 Atlantic had signed Led Zeppelin & Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Rascals were no longer their headline, hit-making act. There were 2 more LPs on Atlantic, more songs solely written by Cavaliere, less promotion reflected by less success. There’s fine music across both records but Eddie Brigati left during the recording of “Search & Nearness” (1971) then guitarist Gene Cornish followed soon after. The Rascals who released “Peaceful World”, their first LP for Columbia, just 2 months later were Felix, Dino & two new members. Again, despite the quality of the music, Jazz Improvisation Rascals failed to find a sizeable audience.

 

 

Image result for young rascals posterThe Rascals were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Steve Van Zandt off of the E Street Band & the Sopranos. His endorsement & affection for fellow Jersey Boys inspired a concert/theatrical combo, the first full reunion for 40 years, which was warmly received. The Rascals’ love of Rhythm & Blues got them started  &  the energy & enthusiasm they injected into their version of it was unmatched (see above). They changed with the times & made LPs that will reward investigation if you’re not already on them. Back when we were young & they were “Young” their hopeful, optimistic even innocent music caught the moment as well as just about anyone around.

New Music From Derry (Summer 2017)

It is with great pleasure that I am able to include this clip on loosehandlebars, it’s been a while coming & it is certainly worth the wait. We have championed the Gatefolds since their first live gig in March 2013. Not only because my friend Joe Brown is the bass player but also because, in the fine tradition of guitar bands out of Derry, Northern Ireland, they made a most acceptable racket. A major highlight of a memory-packed first night in Derry was seeing the band play live. I’m now happy to call all 4 Gatefolds friends, it’s been a pleasure to follow their progress through the videos made by Derry documentarist Jim Cunningham & the receipt of care parcels containing new recordings. Now we have the first professionally shot & edited filming of the band in action & it’s very good indeed.

 

Image result for the gatefolds derry

Photo:Mickey Rooney

THE GATEFOLDS – DISAPPEARING ACT

 

Image result for the gatefolds derryAt the end of April I made the 300 mile journey from my home to the Western edge of Europe to experience my second Gatefolds gig. The guys, a proper Garage band, worked hard in drummer Sean’s garage before returning to playing out & it showed. The guitar interplay of Jason & Fergal flows & surges at all the right times, the rhythm section, Joe & Sean, bring it in subtly & bring it home powerfully. It’s the unity, the 4 of them knowing how the Gatefolds should sound, that is the most impressive. I look forward to hearing studio versions of the new songs.

Over at BBC Radio Foyle presenter Stephen McCauley’s “Electric Mainline” show champions independent music & the local scene. He invited the Gatefolds along to play 2 of their tracks & “Disappearing Act” was caught for posterity. My trip to Donegal was totally worth it (I got a tune dedicated to me, thanks guys). Click on the link & you’ll get a taste of the rocking good stuff.

 

 

 

The best way to get the lowdown on a new young band is to ask a real young person. Keeping it in the family Emmet Brown, son of Joe kindly accepted our invitation to join the ‘handlebars’ karass. Emmet is the Antichrist.  (“What ?”…Really ?”…OH !) Strike that, Emmet is an anarchist…phew !

 

Image result for touts derry band“The word ‘touts’ may have a significantly different meaning in the north than it does most places. Defined as ““someone who betrays a confidence. To squeal, to tell tales, to inform the police of illegal activities”. With a name like that they’re already off to a brave start. With their debut EP “Sickening & Deplorable” its not hard to see where their influences lay. Channeling the power of legends such as the Clash while having the speed of American punks such as early Descendents.
I saw them playing in The Camden Assembly (Formerly the Barfly) in April. I was instantly blown away by their intensity and power. Guitarist and Vocalist Matthew would try to engage with the audience between songs but no one could make out his thick Derry accent. I found this hilarious as I looked around the room at confused faces.
“Saturday Night Scumbag” from their debut EP has to be one of the most fierce and explosive songs to come out of Derry and is exactly what the youth of our city needs. It’s great to see so many young music fans going to gigs and starting bands in Derry. It’s about time!”

 

 

Image result for paddy nash and the happy enchiladasI hope that Paddy Nash doesn’t mind me describing him as a stalwart of the Derry music scene as he’s a big man & I’m in bad shape. Way back at the end of the 20th century his group The Whole Tribe Sings made a single “Happy” which was used in a beer commercial, got them gigs in the US & it could have been, even should have been. After a long break Paddy returned with the Happy Enchiladas as his backing band & there are 6 albums of their sparky, Rock-Folk around. I often encounter Paddy’s name & music through his involvement with local musicians & many community-based projects.

 

This month a solo LP, “Gate Fever” is released. 10 tracks recorded in 6 days it’s a mature collection, sometimes introspective, sometimes retrospective, vignettes & character studies accurately captured. If the songs are a little downbeat well, these are the times we live in & Paddy’s lyrics are studded with warmth, hope & beauty. I feel that I’m listening to an Irish version of John Prine & that’s no bad thing. There’s an interesting video for “We Are The Dead” just up there. If you click here you can listen to “Gate Fever” & buying it is just one more click away.

 

Only In It For The Mony Mony ? (Tommy James and the Shondells)

Over here in the UK Tommy James & the Shondells were one-hit wonders & what a hit it was. In August 1968 the urgent, immediately catchy “Mony Mony” was toppermost of the poppermost for 3 weeks but little else by the group caught the attention of record buyers. Across the Atlantic Tommy & the boys were a much bigger deal, enjoying 9 Top 20 hits between 1966-69. They were prominent in interesting times & Tommy chronicled his own experiences in his autobiography ” Me, the Mob & the Music” (2010). It was a story he had wanted to tell for a long time but didn’t feel comfortable going into print until after the death of Vincent “the Chin” Gigante, head of the Genovese family. Fuggetaboutit  !

 

 

Image result for tommy james hanky pankyTommy James first recorded “Hanky Panky” with his Niles, Michigan high school band. In 1965 renewed interest in Pittsburgh, where bootleg copies sold out, brought the record to national attention. By July 1966 19 year old Tommy, with a new gang of Shondells, had the #1 record in the US. The song was written in 1963 as a throwaway b-side for the Raindrops by New York young guns Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry. The boys took  a basic R&B tune into the Garage & made it even more primitive. They were surely too young & dumb to know they were making a million selling record & that’s the beauty of it.

 

Related imageThe group were signed to Roulette records run by Morris Levy, a New York scenester since the 1940’s. Morris knew guys with imaginative nicknames & equally colourful criminal records. He was also an expert on the connection between controlling the publishing rights of his roster & his bank account. He kept his new hit act busy, 3 LPs & a “Best of…” compilation were released in 1967. Levy was not really a record man, he left the group & their producers to themselves in the studio. It happened that Tommy James & the Shondells had the happy knack of making songs that grabbed your ear when they were played on the radio & made a lot of people want to hand over their hard-earned in exchange for a 7″ vinyl disc.

 

 

There was a stutter after the first hit, the copycat “Say I Am (What I Am)” stalled outside the Top 20 & “It’s Only Love”, a piece of fluff covered in the UK by Tony Blackburn, our lamest DJ, bombed. “I Think We’re Alone Now”, you know it, an instant Powerpop classic, put them back on track. Working with writer/producer Ritchie Cordell the 5 singles released in each of 1967 & 68 varied in quality but all had their appeal. “Mony Mony”, painstakingly assembled in the studio, is supercharged Garage Rock, everything kept simple & done very well. I was 15, dancing to this at the weekend youth club, my record collection small enough to investigate the b-side & learningthat “1-2-3 & I Fell” sounded like a hit to me.

 

 

Times were changing. You can see it in the clip the band made for “Mony Mony”. Everyone has more hair. Is that a Nehru jacket Tommy is wearing ? The love beads have been shared around. Tommy spent time helping the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey. On his return to New York he knew that the emphasis was now on the album rather than the 3 minute single. The group were established enough to produce themselves, prolific enough to release 3 LPs in the next 18 months. First up was “Crimson & Clover”, sleeve notes written by the losing candidate, which included 2 massive hits, the title track (#1) & “Crystal Blue Persuasion (#2). “Crimson & Clover” is a perfect Psychedelic Pop single, better than the Lemon Pipers, better than the Electric Prunes. Innovative effects extract maximum value from a monumental guitar riff & Tommy’s vocals. The LP veers across a range of styles & helped by the hits made the Top 10. Tommy James & the Shondells seemed to have cracked the album market.

 

Image result for tommy james and the shondellsThe title track of “Cellophane Symphony” went the full lysergic. Tommy had got hold of a Moog synthesizer & he was going to use it. This time there’s an ambition that is probably not matched by the material. “Sweet Cherry Wine” is an obvious smash & I really like “Makin’ Good Time”, an old style Tommy James rocker which was only a b-side. The 3 comedy tracks are too many, maybe 3 too many & the LP failed to make an impression.

 

 

Image result for tommy james and the shondells“Travellin'” (1970) got back to where they once belonged, a Blues-Rock simplicity that the band had always done very well. This clip is promoting the single “Gotta Get Back To You” & it’s not just the haircut that makes Tommy look rough. To keep up with the hectic touring & recording schedule Tommy’s drug of choice was amphetamines. After a gig in March he collapsed & was actually pronounced dead. Thankfully he survived & after recuperation the Shondells were no longer attached, Tommy James was a solo act. Those solo LPs are for another time. The memorable “Draggin’ the Line” put him back in the Top 10, there was another hit in 1979.  Tommy James was a 23 gold singles, 9 gold or platinum albums wonder &, he reckoned, around $30 million short of what Morris Levy owed him. In 1987,as an example of the sturdy, enduring nature of his songs, teen idol Tiffany took “I Think We’re Alone Now” (not as good as the Rubinoos) to #1 then was replaced by Billy Idol’s version of “Mony Mony” (not as good as the original).

 

Tommy is still around & Morris Levy isn’t. A 3 year long FBI investigation into the alleged infiltration of organised crime in the record business put his name in the frame for charges of extortion which got him a 10 year stretch. His health was failing & he died in 1990 before he could report to prison. There has been talk that Tommy’s book could be made into a movie. It’s quite a tale.

 

The group are unfairly labelled as a “Bubblegum”. “Hanky Panky” gave them an audience which they wanted to maintain. Tommy showed talent, inventiveness & above all adaptability to accommodate the rapid shifts in the music of the time & make commercially successful records. It’s not just the hits, the LPs contain plenty of interesting music too. Tommy James & the Shondells were never going to change the world, they didn’t want to but they deserve greater consideration in any review of 1960s American Pop music. I’ll finish with Prince, a man who always had an ear for a great song, & his grandstanding version of “Crimson & Clover”. Brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

Honky Tonk Angel (Emmylou Harris)

We were all, well myself & a few friends, a little in love with Emmylou Harris before we had seen even  a photograph of her. Gram Parsons & the Fallen Angels never crossed the Atlantic so, in 1973, all we had was his debut solo LP “GP”, a perfect expression of the beauty, honesty & purity of Gram’s Country vision. Emmylou provided backing vocals on the record & stepped forward for two sparkling duets. Move aside George & Tammy, Conway & Loretta, as good as you are “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes” & “That’s All it Took” sounded like there were new Sweethearts of the Rodeo in town.

 

Related imageBy the time the follow-up LP “Grievous Angel” was released in January 1974 their professional & personal relationship had become closer. The byline was to read “with Emmylou Harris” & she was to appear on the cover. Unfortunately, in September 1973, Gram had overdosed & died aged just 27. His widow Gretchen removed the credit, the photo & the intended title track “Sleepless Nights”, a haunting duet written by Felice & Boudleaux Bryant. The posthumous LP reinforced the talent & vision of Gram & the strength of his partnership with Emmylou. Another better known song by the Bryants, “Love Hurts”, is as sad & beautiful & gorgeous as music can get. As fans losing Gram was a shock despite knowing of his penchant for the High Life. Back then good people were dying from that shit. We could only imagine the effect that losing her mentor & friend had on Emmylou.

 

 

One of the many things that made Gram’s solo records outstanding was the quality of the musicians taking part. The sessions for “GP” had involved members of Elvis Presley’s touring band & that’s a job you get for what you know not who. The full band came around for “Grievous…” & their commitment to this music showed when 3 of them not only joined the sessions for Ms Harris’ solo debut “Pieces of the Sky” (1975) but agreed to accompany her on live dates. “Pieces…” was a 100% classy operation & a template for future records with an immaculate song selection across the traditional & modern Country canon & a Beatles cover, “For No One” all perfectly sung. “Boulder to Birmingham”, the only song co-written by Emmylou, was really saying something, catharsis for her grief. There are some very good tunes on the record but “Boulder…” has deservedly become one of her signature pieces & I’ve got to include it here.

 

Image result for the hot band james burton“Elite Hotel” was released in the last week of 1975 & in the New Year Emmylou & her, aptly named, Hot Band came over to Europe for the first time. We were regulars at rock concerts, had seen some of music’s great stars & this was a special night. Elvis’s boys were there, bass player Emory Gordy Jr, arranger/pianist Glen D Hardin, a former Cricket (“Don’t Ever Change”…oh yes!), veteran of countless sessions & the “Shindig” TV show house band. His fellow Shin-digger James Burton’s guitar playing had helped shaped the sound of Rock & Roll. Every insertion he made on his Pink Paisley Telecaster a model of taste, precision, economy & wonder. John Ware on drums, Hank de Vito, pedal steel & young Texan Rodney Crowell, who had contributed a song to the first record, completed a stellar line-up. It must have given Emmylou confidence to have such strong onstage support. With her own talent & personality she certainly wasn’t in the shadows. I thought that I had some stuff about Gram sorted out but when she & her boys performed evocative versions of “Sin City” & “Return of the Grievous Angel”, songs I never thought I would hear done so well, look, I think I had a cold, I certainly had something in my eye…sniff.

 

 

“Elite Hotel” & “Luxury Liner” followed the same pattern. They were both #1 Country LPs & part of a string of 7 consecutive Gold records. James Burton stopped touring while continuing to show out at the studio. His replacement was Brit Albert Lee, already known as a fine player & the transition was seamless. Emmylou could sing the phone book & it would sound just fine, she continued to tip her stetson to GP & the choice of songs remained as strong as ever whether from the Louvin Brothers or Townes Van Zandt. Two years after that first concert I saw her play again, promoting “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town” (1978). This time I was ready & enjoyed a wonderful evening, beautiful music beautifully played. (Perhaps I’m overusing that word today but hey, it’s true).

 

Related imageEmmylou did take some detours & extended her range with Bluegrass & then “The Ballad of Sally Rose” (1985) where she & her then husband Paul Kennerley wrote all the songs. In 1987 “Trio”, her collaboration with Dolly Parton & Linda Ronstadt, a long time coming what with schedules, labels & whatever, a whole lot of harmonic loveliness, was nominated as Album of the Year at the Grammies. Perhaps there came a time when there were enough Emmylou Harris LPs in your collection. Those first records set new standards for modern Country music which were difficult to match nevermind surpass. In 1992 at a damp, desultory, sparsely attended Crystal Palace Bowl her set lacked the intimacy of an indoor gig & the old songs sounded, well, a little old.

 

 

Form is temporary but class is permanent & in 1995 her 18th studio LP turned up on many of my friends turntables. “Wrecking Ball” was an update of the early records, well chosen contemporary songs, Neil Young, Dylan, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams & Gillian Welch…I did say well chosen, given an atmospheric, innovative working by producer Daniel Lanois (Eno, U2, Dylan). Emmylou’s vocals are a little more grainy, suiting the melancholy of the record. Her subsequent recordings are still getting nominated for awards & deservedly still winning them.

 

Image result for emmylou harrisWhen Emmylou began her solo career the Gram Parsons legend was not yet sewn into Rock’s Rich Tapestry & straight Country music was for the straights. What she had was her Hot Band & the voice of a honky tonk angel. Her talent to reach the emotional heart of a song has made her a legend, a Queen of Country. She has worked with so many fine artists, it’s a list & it’s a long one. I could have chosen so many tracks for this post, the quality is so high. As I’m the King round here a track from “Stumble Into Grace” (2003) makes the cut. “Little Bird” is a collaboration with Canadian sisters Kate & Anna  McGarrigle, a trio from my idea of Heaven. Just perfect.

 

While I’m here “Cowboy Angels” is a live radio broadcast from 1975. Emmylou & the Hot Band were still a new unit & they are a little less polished than on the studio recordings. It’s like listening to the best bar band in the world. In 1979 she recorded a duet with Charlie Louvin, the surviving brother of an act whose harmonies inspired Gram & Emmylou to make such beautiful, enduring music together. The EmmyLouvin Brothers…it’s right here !

 

 

Oh yeah, did I mention that I’m still a little in love with Emmylou Harris ?

 

 

Random Notes (May 2017)

The days fly by & this month the UK has endured an election campaign instigated, ostensibly, by a government wanting to mask its bluff & bluster in negotiations with our former EU partners, more likely hoping to exploit the disarray of any opposition in England & Wales. The Tory party will remain in power (I’ve been wrong before) but the flakiness of their “strong & stable” mantra in the face of a half-baked “Dementia Tax” on the sick & the dead & a Labour manifesto which, at least & at last, promoted an alternative to austerity will prevent the landslide victory anticipated & hoped for by the government & most of our media puppets (“Crush the Saboteurs!” Oh fuck off!)

 

Image result for manchester tony wilson we do things

 

This week’s horrific massacre in Manchester, a great city which has shown the empathy & community that is the best of Britain, will inevitably highlight the issue of national security. Already Mr Corbyn is being attacked for pointing out that the disastrous intervention in Libya contributed to chaos, anger, frustration & the rise of a new focus for militant Islam. The murder of innocent people enjoying a concert by their favourite Pop star is inexcusable & heartbreaking but atrocities are occurring across the Middle East in the name of the West’s War On Terror, in the cause of strength & stability. Robert Fisk is a journalist who I trust & respect…

“As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.”

OK, here’s some music…

 

 

Almost the best of the month, stick around that comes later, any new song by Bunny Wailer raises my spirits. As the last of the Wailing Wailers Jah Bunny is the keeper of the flame & he represents the great & influential group with integrity & style. “Baddest” is a Rub-a-Dub rework of Peter Tosh’ anthem, first recorded in 1967, “I’m the Toughest” in alliance with Dancehall queen Ruffi-Ann. Like everything Bunny releases on his Solomonic label it has a freshness & a vitality. He is a musical great who knows the spirit of Reggae &, at coming up 70 this year, is still able to capture it. “Baddest” may not be up there with the best music he has made but it could be the Feelgood Hit of the Summer. ♫Any Dub that you can play I & I can play it better♫ Yes Sir!

 

 

Image result for daniel romano modern pressureA new Daniel Romano record is always a big deal round our yard & even though “Modern Pressure” has not been here for long toes are tapping & choruses becoming familiar. Mr Romano is prolific, an album a year in the last 3 & a couple more from Altered Shapes, his Punk offshoot band. He’s become a bit of a shape-shifter too, the traditional Country, three chords & the truth about heartbreak, of his early records has all but disappeared. The lovely “Roya” would easily fit on those records while an expanded musical palette, Dylanesque organ swirls, treated guitars, everything louder makes “Modern Pressure” a Country Rock album. “The Pride of Queens” sounds like an epic to me, the closing, urgent “What’s To Become of the Meaning of Love” instantly appeals & the poppy “When I Learned Your Name” sounds like Nick Lowe/Brinsley Schwarz & that’s a good thing.

 

Like the best records last year’s “Mosey” took its own good time to reveal all its delights. At first it seemed to be quite a switch by Romano but it has become the album of choice for journeys of any distance, a collection of good songs which come together as an atmospheric whole. “Mosey” will still get played round here. Daniel Romano is a very talented songwriter & musician, his restless streak is matched by his inventiveness. Wherever he wants to take his music my interest is piqued enough to want to follow. I have high hopes that “Modern Pressure” will become a new favourite.

 

 

I’ve had my fancy-schmancy Internet powered TV for some time now. It’s an idiot box of electrickeries most of which I neither grasp nor have need of. The 7 (that’s 7!) channels of 24/7 sport are enough to sustain a sense of wonder about the Modern World. So it was more luck than judgement that the appropriate buttons were pressed to record the full series (8 episodes) of the 2005 BBC production of “Bleak House”. Fortuitous perhaps but it provided a televisual experience to rival this year’s superb “Taboo”, another of the Beeb’s finest.

 

Image result for phil davis smallweedI love Charles Dickens, what’s not to…, his satire, his social conscience his unmatched balance of sentiment & melodrama & his finely drawn parade of eccentric characters. It was all there on the screen. “Bleak House” was written as a serial & the series was originally shown in 15 30-minute parts, a pot-boiler yes but certainly not a soap opera. Writer Andrew Davies is the doyen of literary adaptors, it was beautifully filmed & the extensive cast is a delight. It’s a list, Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther), Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock) & young Carey Mulligan (Ada) led the way in Dickens’ only book with a female protagonist. Charles Dance was a dastardly Tulkinghorn, the contributions of Burn Gorman (Guppy of Kenge & Carboys), Phil Davies (Smallweed, “shake me up Judy”), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Bucket) & Johnny Vegas (Krook) were all perfectly pitched. I’m going to include Michael Smiley (Squod) here because I have recently enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” & “Free Fire” & he shines in both of them. Actor of the month.

 

I’m not the biggest fan of period drama but I do enjoy the grimy streets of London Town seen in “Bleak House” & “Taboo”. I appreciated too Whit Stillman’s film “Love & Friendship” (Kate Beckinsale “always watchable”). Either these things are getting more modern or I’m becoming more old-fashioned. Oh Christ, it’s the latter isn’t it ?

What If Something’s On TV And Never Shown Again ? (The Village Square)

“The Village Square” was a US TV show which originally aired out of Charleston, South Carolina & was syndicated across the country between 1965-68. A local band was renamed the Villagers & they covered the Top 40 hits of the day. Suited & booted for the middle of the road, Mod casual, with go-go dancers, for the British Invasion then kaftanned-up for the Summer of Love, everything they did had, at least, energy. It is the surviving clips of the guest artists, a chance to see quality, colour clips of acts that didn’t usually get star treatment, which are of most interest.

 

 

Image result for the tams The Tams formed in Atlanta, Georgia in 1960 & 2 years later an R&B hit “Untie Me” scored them a deal with ABC-Paramount. That first hit was written by fellow Atlantan Joe South. He & another local songwriter, Ray Whitley, provided the material to keep their name in the frame through the rest of the decade. Here from 1966, in living colour they perform “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)”, a Top 10 record in 1964. The label had used FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama for a Tommy Roe hit & brought the Tams around to get this new sound. It’s great to see such a good quality clip of the guys, fronted by gravel-voiced Joseph Pope, doing their thing. It’s even greater, for me anyway, to see the second song. “Shelter”, their current 45 at the time, a dynamic Soul Stomper, written by Joe South & my favourite track by a group who made many fine records.

 

Over in the UK the Tams were Northern Soul darlings, a scene which kept its favourites close, long after their expected shelf life. In 1970 a two year old 45 “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” got a wider hearing. It’s a surprise that it only made #32 on the chart because everyone knows that one. The following year “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me”, recorded in 1964 & still a floor-filler, went to #1. The Tams crossed the Atlantic, were on “Top of the Pops” & were a big deal. The group continued to perform & in 1987 had a UK hit with “There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin'” which is apparently a dance. It means something else in British so was banned by  the BBC !

 

 

The US R&B charts of the early 1960 were a rich seam of material for the British Beat Boomers. I guess cultural appropriation was not yet a thing so the 3 Motown tracks on “With the Beatles” were a gateway to the delights coming out of Detroit. Same with Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” & the Exciters. There are many examples, it’s a list. The third single by Manchester’s Hollies, their first Top 10 hit, was a rush of harmonious Mersey Sound which pointed me towards the original recording from way, way back in the olden days, 1960.

 

Image result for maurice williams the zodiacs“Stay” by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs is such a  sure fire smash. It’s the sound of Doo-Wop moving into Soul. In 1960 the Drifters were hitting big adapting the Brazilian baion rhythm to R&B & “Stay” has a laid-back Caribbean feel. South Carolina beach music…it’s a thing. In 1958 he group, as the Gladiolas had recorded Maurice’s “Little Darlin'”, another individual vocal group song which was a bigger hit for the Diamonds. I had that record in a pile of 78 rpm discs (ask your grandma) that came my way & loved it when I was a kid.

 

The group are known as one-hit wonders but the second song here eventually earned them a gold record. There were, justifiably, high hopes for “May I”, written by Maurice, produced by the great Allen Toussaint & his partner Marshall Sehorn. Unfortunately Vee Jay went bankrupt just before the record’s release & it didn’t receive the promotion it deserved. “May I” is another good one, making use of the four voices & featuring the trademark Zodiacs’ falsetto. Once again, praise Jah for the Y-tube.

 

 

Here, in one clip, we have the duality of the Lemon Pipers, a band formed at college in Oxford Ohio. They signed with Buddah, a new label run by 24 year old Neil Bogart who had Captain Beefheart & Melanie on the roster but whose big idea was to grab hit Bubblegum Pop singles with the likes of 1910 Fruitgum Co & Ohio Express. Bubblegum for all its attractions (& there are many) relied upon an assembly line of writers & producers making ready-rolled records for faceless, or cartoon, groups. The Lemon Pipers were for real, they wrote their own songs. Trouble was that their debut single failed to sell & Buddah made them toe the company line.

 

Image result for lemon pipersSo here they are promoting their second single “Green Tambourine” provided by staff writers Paul Leka & Shelley Pinz. This Pop-Psychedelia, more Pop than Psych despite the sitar, was catching on after Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense & Peppermints” & “…Tambourine” succeeded John Fred’s “Judy In Disguise” at the top of the charts. They also perform the B-side “No Help From Me”, written by keyboard player Bill Nave, a bluesy Psych-Rocker in the style of the Blues Magoos or Jefferson Airplane. The success of the single meant that the Pipers were knackered though weren’t they?

 

The debut LP was a real mix, 5 Leka/Pinz songs, the others, including the 9-minute “Through With You”, was from the band. The follow up single was “Rice Is Nice” & it was no “Yummy, Yummy,Yummy”, it really did suck the big one. There was another LP, another 50/50 deal & the Pipers played on bills with the Heavy bands of the day. Unfortunately cod-psych lyrics like “To the yellow ball of butter where the clouds are as fluffy as a parachute sail” (“Jelly Jungle of Orange Marmalade-lade-lade-lade-lade”) did tend to get held against the band with the one big Pop hit & perhaps deservedly so.

 

 

Up Down All Around Like A See Saw (Don Covay)

Well 3 clips may be the magic number & you are all busy people but Don Covay was responsible for a whole lot of great Soul music. There’s no way in Hull that I can do the right thing by him as an artist by only featuring his own recordings because he was an equally talented songwriter. Whatever the changing styles & tastes in 1960’s African-American music when other singers came around calling then Don Covay usually had a song that was just the thing for them. Here’s one he kept for himself.

 

 

“Mercy Mercy” was a Top 40 US hit for Don & the Goodtimers in 1964. It’s a Gospel-inflected Soul gem, simple with a raw edge to the vocal underpinned by a variation on the sort of guitar work Curtis Mayfield brought to the Impressions. If, as it seems, Jimi Hendrix played on this, he performed the song on early Experience gigs, then he did a fine job. At the time  Rolling Stones were the world’s foremost R&B covers band. With Jagger doing his best Covay impression, they recorded a fine version for their third LP “Out of Our Heads” (1965). This wasn’t his only song to be picked up by the British Beat Boomers. “Long Tall Shorty”, Tommy Tucker’s follow up to his big hit “Hi-Heel Sneakers” was covered by both the Kinks & the Graham Bond Organisation.

 

Image result for don covayCovay progressed from his family gospel group to the more secular Rainbows before touring with Little Richard as his chauffeur & as “Pretty Boy” his opening act. In 1960 “Pony Time”, a song he recorded with the Goodtimers was picked up by Chubby Checker, riding high on the Twist craze, & became a #1 record. Such a big hit brings people calling. As he said later “copyrights last longer than record labels”. For a while Don provided songs about new, real or imaginary, dances. One he kept for himself, “The Popeye Waddle” unfortunately didn’t catch on because I think I would be a natural. There was though a whole lot more to Don Covay than dance instructions.

 

 

Oh yeah, the lovely Gladys & her equally lovely Pips hit big with “Every Beat of my Heart” in 1961 when Ms Knight was just 17. Don Covay provided this follow-up, another US Top 20 hit. A direct, impassioned ballad, covered in the UK by Billy Fury, the best of our early rockers, showed another side to his talents. Solomon Burke, Atlantic’s biggest star, took “I’m Hanging Up My Heart For You” & in 1965 his old boss Little Richard came to New York for “I Don’t Know What You Got But It’s Got Me”, a slow-burning two part overlooked Deep Soul classic. (There’s no room here for these songs but they are in your Youtube & you should find them. Do you like good music ? Then you will love the Little Richard track). Atlantic signed Don as a performer at a time when they were striking a partnership with a new Hit Factory at Stax studios in Memphis.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womack“See Saw” is co-written with Steve Cropper, guitarist with Booker T & the M.G.s. This group & the Memphis Horns were bringing a raw power to Soul. Don only recorded 4 tracks at Stax, this R&B hit, 2 co-writes with Cropper & “Iron Out the Rough Spots”, a Jones/Cropper/Porter joint. They can be found on the 1966 LP “See Saw”, his most consistent collection to date. In the UK “See Saw” found an audience in the Mod clubs & its place in the repertoire of Soul covers bands. In 1968 Aretha Franklin took “See Saw” into the US Top 10. She already knew that she could get a hit record on a Don Covay song.

 

 

In 1967 Atlantic took their new signing Aretha Franklin to Muscle Shoals Alabama where FAME studios were making hits. The turbulence of that first visit is well documented but the label knew they were on to a good thing & by the end of the year there were 5 Top 10 singles & the new star was the Queen of Soul. Don Covay’s “Chain of Fools” was the 5th of those records, the opening track of her almost perfect LP “Lady Soul”.  Aretha’s vocals, FAME house band the Swampers (Joe South on guitar) & back-up Sweet Inspirations combined to produce a perfect song & a Grammy for Ms Franklin. This is where Soul was at 50 years ago.

 

Don had been around the block & Peter Wolf off of J Geils Band relates a story from that time. On the promise to Jerry Wexler (Atlantic’s head honcho) of a better song than “Chain…” the label delivered an array of top of the range musical equipment which Don then sold on. There are 854 recordings around where Covay is credited as songwriter. He knew that his royalty cheques didn’t always match what he thought he was due.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womackDon was an ebullient, energetic character, his confidence surely reinforced by his success. His recorded rarely but in 1968 he instigated the Soul Clan, an ambitious amalgamation of 5 Soul Stars, himself,  Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Arthur Conley & Ben E King. Things did not run smoothly, Otis Redding died, Wilson Pickett pulled out, Burke’s plan to set up extensive black-owned businesses needed a million dollars from Atlantic that the label was unlikely to hand over. An LP, “Soul Meeting” (1968), was produced by Covay who provided a majority of the material. “That’s How It Feels”, the outstanding ensemble track of the album is co-written with Bobby Womack who was then having more success as a writer than with his own records & who often expressed his admiration for his collaborator.

 

Times were changing, Soul was getting Funky, with no label support & egos to juggle the Clan fizzled out. Don looked back & recorded with the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band, a pretty good LP with a touch of Taj Mahal about it. In 1972 he left Atlantic, his last 45 a cover of “Everything I Do Goin’ Be Funky”. The new head of A&R at Mercury was ready for the new thing.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womack“Super Dude” (1973) is such a good record. Don’s emotional story-songs are still straight to the heart but, now in his mid-thirties, things are getting a little more complicated.”I Was Checking Out, She Was Checking In”,his biggest Pop hit, is not the only fine “love gone wrong” ballad on the LP. Recorded in Alabama with Womack & the Muscle Shoals band, as good as it got back then, it really is a top class mature example of Southern Soul. Mick Jagger was still listening to Don Covay, you’ve heard “Fool To Cry” haven’t you ? A track from the sessions, the funktastic “It’s Better To Have (& Don’t Need)” made it on to UK radio & gave him a UK hit.

 

Don spent the Disco years at Philadelphia International, another right place at the right time. There was little more new music & in 1992 he suffered a stroke. Jagger & Richard are said to have helped with the rehabilitation expenses, friends & admirers recorded a tribute LP in 1993. There’s so much good music made by Don Covay. I must, at least, mention the songs he wrote with Wilson Pickett & the Reggae versions of his tunes. If you know his music then you know how big his contribution to Soul music was. If you don’t then he really is worthy of your attention.

 

 

 

 

I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now (Ronnie Lane)

Image result for small faces magazine coversBy 1975 Ronnie Lane had been successfully writing, recording & performing music for a decade. He was still a teenager when Small Faces’ R&B inflected Pop, as whip-smart as their Mod threads, became a UK chart-topping sensation of 1966. In collaboration with Steve Marriott he wrote 6 of the group’s 7 Top 10 hits. At the beginning of the 70’s Faces, a new alliance with Rod Stewart & Ron Wood, made a flash, spirited, raucous racket that was most pleasing on the ear. Ronnie’s more contemplative songs provided a lovely counterpoint to the good-time Stones-y rock. His pivotal role emphasised by the fact that on his departure in 1973 Faces continued but never recorded another studio LP. Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance was more restrained with a wider range of instrumentation & styles. A showcase for a mature songwriter who could raise a smile & touch your heart with equal facility.

 

At the beginning of 1976 Ronnie was back in the charts when “Itchycoo Park”, an innovative, perfect Psych-Pop single from 1967, East End hippies stoned in Stepney, was re-released. Plans for a Small Faces reunion were advanced but Ronnie only attended the one rehearsal before he decided that it was not for him. The business part of making music had not always worked out to Ronnie’s advantage & it would have been uncharacteristic for him to be taking such a backward step. Besides, back home on Fishpool Farm, in Shropshire on the England/Wales border, he had something quite unique going on & a busy year ahead.

 

 

 

In the burning Summer of 1975 Slim Chance had recorded “One for the Road”, their third LP. Down on the farm Ronnie had a 16 track mobile studio in an Airstream trailer & bucolic good times were captured with a rare immediacy & warmth. “Anymore for Anymore” (1974) shows the confidence of a man finally out on his own (“It was time to leave the band when Rod started buying his clothes at Miss Selfridge”) knowing & getting what he wanted. A debut 45, “How Come” had been successful but when “The Poacher”, a perfectly realised pastoral classic, was less so then commercial expectations for the album were probably revised. Such ageless, amiable, assured music didn’t suit the “progressive” taste of fans of British Rock in 1974.

 

Image result for one for the road ronnie laneReleased in 1976 it would take something for “One for…” to match the debut but it runs it close. There’s not the same mix of original songs & well chosen, sometimes surprising, cover versions, all 9 songs are written by Ronnie & some of them rank with his best. Even when he was laid-back & folksy our man’s tunes could still be anthemic. Live gigs became  a caravan of musicians & circus acts, the Passing Show. Often performing in a big top tent it was an idealistic if expensive way of making a Rock concert a new experience. I saw Slim Chance in 1975 (unfortunately not in the tent) & boy they were good. Kate, Mrs Lane, danced the Can Can to the closing “Ooh La La” & everyone in the place, band & audience, were having a very good time.

 

 

In October “Snakes & Ladders/the Best of Faces” hit the shops, a collection which seemingly diminished the part played by Ronnie in the group. It is understandable that the record label would want to piggy-back the international success of Rod Stewart but to include none of the songs on which Ronnie sang lead is less so. Any which way you hear it anyone with ears has the wondrous “Debris” in any Faces Finest collection, “Glad & Sorry” is pushing its way in there too. The LP sleeve has no trace of Ronnie either & that seems a little mean-spirited, particularly as the previous month had seen the release of an LP which highlighted how closely he had worked with his bandmates.

 

Image result for mahoney's last stand“Mahoney’s Last Stand” is the soundtrack LP to a rarely seen 1972 Canadian film. Ronnie Lane & Ron Wood co-wrote 12 tunes, arranged one traditional song & recorded them at Glyn Johns’ Olympic Studio in Barnes, London. They got their mates along to jam. Their fellow Faces, Pete Townshend, Rick Grech, the Stones’ horn section (Jim Price & Bobby Keyes), it’s a list & I’ve missed some fine players out. The album was tidied up in 1976, retaining its ramshackle feel. “Tonight’s Number” is a rocking instrumental opening jam, “Chicken Wired” made it on to “Anymore for…”. It’s “Safety Pin Queen” that features here because it’s a Faces riff (on the theme of “Cindy Incidentally” ?) & we get to hear the peerless keyboards of Ian McLagan, the bottleneck skills that got Woody a job with the Stones, underpinned with great work on the bass by Ronnie…glorious !

 

 

Image result for rough mix pete townshend album advertSlim Chance had been dropped by Island records & the expense of keeping his Passing Show on the road was making things tight. Ronnie had contributed to 3 LPs made in tribute to Indian spiritual master Meher Baba by Pete Townshend off of the Who. Ronnie contacted Pete with a view to having him produce his next record. This resulted in the pair entering Olympic Studios in the Winter of 1976 to record a collaborative LP. “Rough Mix” (1977) has 5 songs by each contributor & just one co-composition, the instrumental title track & the blend is seamless. It, in my opinion, is a great example of 1970s British rock & its influences made by those musicians who started in the 1960s. Up there with “Every Picture…”, “All Things…” & Exile…”, that good ! “Rough Mix” is worth some of your hard-earned just for that driving beat of Charlie Watts on Pete’s rocking “My Baby Gives It Away” or for Eric Clapton’s Dobro accompaniment to Ronnie’s poignant, perfect “Annie”.

 

Image result for ronnie lane newhamIt was during the “Rough Mix” sessions that Ronnie was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis, a wasting disease which attacks the central nervous system & for which there is no known cure. This limited more than his musical activities, there was just one more solo LP, “See Me” (1979), A hook up with Steve Marriott (the clumsily named Majik Mijits) was recorded but not released for 20 years. After an extreme course of snake venom injections he was back & broke in London. The great & the good of the British Rock aristocracy rallied around for a benefit concert, Clapton, Beck & Page, the 3 guitar stars of the Yardbirds together, which went so well that there were 9 further US dates. Ronnie was able to move to Texas’ more beneficial climate. He played when he could, Page, Rod & Ron contributed to his medical bills. He died on the 4th of June 1997 in Colorado. He was just 51 years old.

 

 

Related imageThat’s a sad end to Ronnie’s story. I was lucky enough to spend just 10 minutes in his company, he was affable, funny, a true gent & this seems to be an opinion shared by those who knew him well. I do know that while writing this post I have listened to great music made by Small Faces, Faces, Slim Chance & with Pete Townshend. Twenty years after Ronnie Lane’s passing “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”, “Rough Mix”, a pile of unforgettable singles & the treasures from his own band are never far away & always lift the spirit.  “And now for your delight ah, the darling of Wapping Wharf launderette, Ronald ah ‘Leafy’ Lane!!!”. Get on it.